The Guardian UKThursday 3 September 2009
South of the Border is Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone's record of a trip to Venezuela to meet the president, Hugo Chávez. Ahead of the film's premiere at the Venice film festival on Monday, Stone writes about his hopes for the film, and the future of US foreign policy in the region.
"I've been fortunate to be able to make several films about North America's neglected "backyard" – Central and South America."
The low-budget, independently-shot Salvador, about the US involvement with the death squads of El Salvador, and starring James Woods in an Oscar-nominated performance, was released in 1986; this was followed by Comandante in 2003, and Looking for Fidel in 2004, with both of these documentaries exploring Fidel Castro in one–on–one interviews.
Each of these films has struggled to be distributed in North America. I was invited to Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chávez for the first time during his aborted rescue mission of Colombian hostages, held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), during Christmas of 2007.
As is often the case, the man I met was not the man I'd read and heard about in the US media. I was able to return in January 2009 to interview President Chávez in more depth. Was Hugo Chávez really the anti–American force we've been told he is? Once we began our journey, we found ourselves going beyond Venezuela to several other countries, and interviewing seven presidents in the region, telling a larger and even more compelling story, which has now become South of the Border. Leader after leader seemed to be saying the same thing. They wanted to control their own resources, strengthen regional ties, be treated as equals with the US, and become financially independent of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Based on our experiences in Iraq, Americans must question the role of our media in demonising foreign leaders as our enemies. The consequences of this can be brutal.
This is a continuing story. It is going on right now with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Hopefully, in our film, you'll get to hear a far different side of the "official" story.